02/07/2013 2:14PM

Golden Gate: Branding takes stakes test in California Oaks

Shigeki Kikkawa
Branding, Gary Stevens aboard, wins a Santa Anita maiden race last month, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 84, which is the highest in the California Oaks field.

The field for Saturday’s running of the $50,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields is among the biggest and deepest in race history. Although six of the 11 3-year-old fillies signed up for the 1 1/16-mile Tapeta race have only a maiden victory, several have stakes-winning potential.

That is especially true of Branding, who scored an impressive maiden victory at Santa Anita on Jan. 12 in her second start. She stalked the pace early and pulled away late to win the seven-furlong maiden race by 2 1/2 lengths, giving Gary Stevens his first win since he returned to the saddle a month ago. Branding earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 84 – the highest in the field.

Branding is bred to be a good one. A $250,000 yearling purchase by Glen Hill Farm, she is daughter of Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Street Sense and the Storm Cat mare Awesome, who is a half-sister to Grade 1-winning millionaires Inside Information and Educated Risk.

Branding finished eighth in her debut, which came on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track last June. Trainer Tom Proctor said the filly suffered a splint injury from kicking herself in the race, and he decided to give her plenty of time to recover.

“We give ’em all time,” he said. “We let them develop.”

Proctor scratched her from the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita on Jan. 26 to run her in the Oaks.

Branding should be well-backed in the Oaks and is certainly bred for distance, but she must overcome breaking from post 10 and the change in surface from dirt at Santa Anita to Tapeta at Golden Gate.

Proctor said Branding needs to show him that she can compete with the type she faces Saturday before he makes future plans for her.

“You try not to get too high,” he said. “Expectations kill all horses. You try to keep expectations low until they prove something.

“I don’t know if it’s the right spot for her. She trains on the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Julien Couton will ride Branding.

Branding will be meeting the stakes winners Butterfly Soul, who just ran fourth against colts in the California Derby, and Marks Mine, who was third after setting the pace in the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes at Santa Anita. Marks Mine won the six-furlong Golden Gate Debutante in December. She has been on the lead early in most of her races and is the one to catch on Saturday from post 4.

Butterfly Soul breaks from the outside post. She won the Phil D. Shepherd at Fairplex in September and missed by a neck in the Pike Place Dancer on the Golden Gate turf in October. Butterfly Soul rallied from seventh in the California Derby and was beaten 2 1/4 lengths by the winner, Zeewat.

Adding to the race’s depth are Lucky Moment, who has won three straight, including an optional-claiming victory at a mile; Isadaisybelle, who has won two straight at one mile; Sweet Tess, who graduated at one mile; and My Lil Shamrock, who ran third in the Golden Gate Debutante and second to Lucky Moment in the optional claimer.